And that’s a problem.
Carter Jr. can’t control the speed at which Denzel Valentine runs into his quad. He can’t control his previous core injury. This isn’t his fault.
But the Bulls are quickly running out of time on him.
The Bulls announced today that Carter Jr. would be reevaluated in four weeks, for a deep quad contusion that was caused by a freak accident during practice. This isn’t the first time that Carter Jr. will miss a long stretch of games.
This is 3rd straight season Carter will miss significant time. He played 44/82 and 43/65 his first two seasons. https://t.co/N9bU91eYXr
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 26, 2021
Of course, this is a huge concern for the Bulls in the present tense. Carter Jr. was averaging 12.8 points, 2.4 assists, and 8.0 rebounds a contest before his injury (via Basketball-Reference). His play had picked up steam in the last few games, and he looked more and more like an offensive hub and the defensive stalwart that he was billed to be coming out of Duke. The Bulls will obviously have a huge dip, caused by the hole at center.
However, those short term losses are foreshadowing what could be a sticky situation down the road, one that Bulls fans are all too familiar with.
You see, when an NBA rookie is drafted in the first round, they have a special contract. It’s a 2+2 contract, meaning that the first two years are guaranteed, and then the next two years have individual team options (which means the team has the ability to say “yes” or “no” to bringing the player back, in layman’s terms). The 2021 season for Wendell Carter Jr. was the first of those team option years.
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There’s no doubt the Bulls will exercise that second team option. That’s not what I’m worried about. What I’m worried about is what comes after that — the extension window.
Think of what’s going on right now with Lauri Markkanen. He’s going to be a restricted free agent after this season, because his agency team and the Chicago Bulls couldn’t decide on a number that accurately reflected his value on the court. The most likely scenario is that Markkanen will sign an offer sheet with another team, forcing the Bulls to match that offer, like they did with Zach LaVine. If Markkanen doesn’t re-sign, then he plays one more year with Chicago on the qualifying offer, and then is an unrestricted free agent.
Wendell Carter Jr. is one year behind Markkanen.
The worst spot the Bulls can be in with Carter Jr. is not knowing what his value is on the court. We get to that scenario by continuing down the same road that we’ve already been on — a road filled with Jim Boylen; and frequent injuries.
It’s no secret that Boylen misused Carter Jr. But that misuse functionally “reset” the timer on figuring out what Carter Jr. is as a basketball player. Which means Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley have a shortened time frame to figure out what a fair contract price is for Carter Jr.
The solution to that problem? Wendell Carter Jr. needs to have consistent playing time after coming back from the injury. The Bulls front office needs to see him have extended minutes for a majority of this season, and next. Otherwise, if the worst case scenario comes true, the Bulls might not have a frontcourt in 2023.